OPINION: Transition to new formats will give Jewish media a new lease of life

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OPINION: Transition to new formats will give Jewish media a new lease of life

Alex Brummer, city editor of the Daily Mail and chair of Jewish News, with an optimistic appraisal of what the future has in store for the community's media platforms.

Alex Brummer is a Jewish News columnist and the City Editor, Daily Mail

Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle.
Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle.

Less than a decade ago it looked as if it was all over for printed newspapers as we know them. The rise of social media giants, the BBC’s online output and regional presence and seeming failure of British and for that matter American titles to adapt to new online challenges made it look as the printed word would suffer the same fate as the VCR, the CD and county cricket. For generations younger than baby boomers, newspapers seem an anachronism. 

Once upon a time in our own community there was hardly a Jewish household in Britain that didn’t pick up the Jewish Chronicle and feel the need to record the hatch, matches and dispatches on its ‘Social & Personal’ column. When the London Jewish News was launched (now this august outlet Jewish News), full of all the community happenings you could print and free at your local deli, bus stop or shul – the JC suffered a blow.

In spite of all the challenges from the surging cost of newsprint, to distribution costs and the loss of advertising revenues to the social media giants, there are still 10 national newspaper titles on sale in newsagents and supermarkets up and down the land.

And in the Jewish community the JC and Jewish News compete for the same advertising and best stories, while other titles including the Jewish Telegraph (in Manchester) nibble around the edges.

How has this adaptation happened?

British newspapers have taken the same skills and content developed in print and placed them online.

The creator of Britain’s campaigning and entertaining newspapers was the man known in the trade as ‘The chief’ – Lord Northcliffe, founder of the Daily Mail.

In the Jewish community the JC and Jewish News compete for the same advertising and best stories, while other titles including the Jewish Telegraph (in Manchester) nibble around the edges.

As new biography by philo-Jewish historian Andrew Roberts recounts, at the turn of the 20th century Alfred Harmsworth was one of the most powerful figures in Britain controlling 40 percent of the UK press. Having founded the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror he went on to become proprietor of The Times and the Observer as well.

Arguably he changed the course of British history too with his constant attacks on Viscount Asquith’s government and its prosecution of World War One leading to his replacement by Lloyd George and new more aggressive generals.

Roberts also reveals in detail Northcliffe’s antisemitism partly based on the views that Jews were a dominant force in Kaiser’s Germany and as a result British Jews might be less patriotic than other citizens. If Northcliffe, Alfred Harmsworth, had lived until the 1930s he might have held a different view.

The reason I mention Northcliffe is that when the techniques he deployed in the printed word were applied online in this century – they continued to work. The Daily Mail Online became the biggest newspaper site in the world with its combination of old fashioned news skills and showbiz and royal gossip.

At the other end of the political spectrum the Guardian also has gained a big American following. It took Brits at the Wall Street Journal and New York Times to convert American publications to upmarket US online sites. One of the things that has been learnt from this revolution is that the online editions allow the paper versions to survive, in some form, and indeed prosper on much smaller circulations and in new formats than at once seemed possible.

In the Jewish world Jewish News, by aligning itself online with the Times of Israel and other Jewish publications, is also devising a new strategy. As well as the online Jewish News updates around the clock its blogs, podcasts and other digital access points provide the readership, commercial space for a community paper to reach younger and broader audiences.

It means Jewish News is still in the bins across London and elsewhere and is able to create great colour magazines and supplements focusing on homes, kosher foods, kitchens fashions as well as serious journalism such as editor Richard Ferrer’s excellent interview with Lord Levy in the recent Rosh Hashanah edition.

The transition to new formats and approaches can be perilous and difficult. But with the right community support there is no reason why, like our national titles, it should not succeed.

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